Dagan: a world at your fingertips

I am attempting… to re-construct several of my stories into the world they were meant to be.

The process has been a longtime coming, and I am not sure if/when the completed project will be finished, but I have started on the basic skeleton. If I can find enough threads in the stories so far I may add to it, but I will also need to do some rethinking and rewriting. All just takes time.

Twine is a new program that is used to create hypertext stories, although I believe the more important value may be in constructing hypertext novels. Most hypertext stories are very short, taking the reader through short moments and highly programmed. The hypertext novel is just an evolution of the novel, where further stories outside of the main story can be explored and the world can be defined more deeply in ways that may help the reader appreciate the story more.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.

References

Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

G.B. Caird: The Placement of History Within Biblical Interpretation

Caird presents the reader with an alternate view of understanding the Bible. Whereas Bultmann focused on teaching the application of mythology within the Bible, Caird presents a study of words, or a study of eschatological proportion. Caird claims that the Bible is perhaps, a metaphor for existence and personal reflection. He proves this through different passages, and claims three conclusions about Biblical passages: 1) the Biblical writers believed in a beginning and an end, 2) the words expressed were metaphorical end-of-the-world language, and 3) people misinterpret these metaphors in the literal sense.

Caird understands the Bible in a historical and purpose sense. He believes the Bible should be read and understood in the historical mode. He also believes the intention of the author should be fully grasped, before interpretation. He views interpretative meaning as merely interpretation, and claims the interpretative events are metaphors for something else.

Also, Caird also asserts the eschatology of the words in the Bible – being that, they mean what they are. Therefore, when something is stated in a Biblical passage, then it is truth within that passage for that writer during that time. I believe this is a healthy way to understand the Bible, because you are not thrusting your own experience and your own intentions upon something that did not originate from you or your experience.

I, however, do believe that people can interpret Scripture to their own whims. But I classify this as interpretation, not as truth – the only truth being that eschatological reading based upon history and the intention of the author. Caird asserts any interpretation beyond what is true to history and the author is misinterpreted, and he continues by stating some problems this type of interpretation have caused, such as the ‘day of the Lord’ (Anno Domini) and the ‘latter end of days.’

Eschatology is important for understanding the Bible, especially if you believe the Bible was written by human hands and not divine hands. If you believe solely God wrote the Bible, then neither I, not Caird, can help you, because the divine cannot be questioned. However, if you are willing to believe that human hands wrote the Bible, and each author had their own intentions in writing his or her specific passage, and each author lived in a historical period with an experience and a judgment, then the application of eschatology is important. By understanding the placement and meaning of the words in the exegetical process through the application of eschatology, you can unravel the mysteries behind the lines and passages. There are patterns in the Bible, and the Biblical authors expressively used these patterns to their advantage. There are also literary expressions used throughout the Bible in pattern to other books that, if understood, reveal great details about what the author was intending to say about society and culture. Recognizing these facets is something Caird impressed upon the Biblical world. I thank him.

(This short essay was written for a class on Biblical methods and interpretation throughout Christian history.  Today my feelings are slightly different from when I wrote this back in 2002: using historical criticism of the Bible is a helpful tool, but beyond a tool, we must still rely on the authority of Jesus in our relationship with God as the prime end of how we should interpret the scriptures.  Understand cultural implications and the historical significance is important to illuminating the lessons intended within the specific work, but even our interpretations must be subjected to our own cultural worldview and interpretation of fact.)

Painted Skin, 画皮

Although based on a short story by Pu Songling called Painted Skin, the movie has very little to do with the original except for the chilling actions taken by some of the characters, such as the ripping of hearts from the chest, and a demon masquerading as a beautiful women by wearing human skin. That being said, Painted Skin is not such a scary movie, at least not as scary as the advertising promotes.

Scariness aside, Painted Skin is a multifaceted love triangle. It is a fantastic film, one with riveting action sequences, creative ideas and amazing special effects. There were moments watching it when I could not pull away. What is more exciting than a battle between ancient demons and super heroes, all based on the secret love for each other they hold inside? Although like most Chinese fantasy films, the composition is baroque and exaggerated, but that is part of the draw, especially since the turbulence is done so well.

What was most surprising though, was the accomplishment and wonder that comes from the movie. A film like this could have easily meandered into nihilism, but Painted Skin manages to stay afloat through the power (and destruction) that foolish, unbounded love can bring upon people, as well as through a healthy respect for the powers beyond this world. I had expected the film to end like most Chinese films, but Painted Skin does not disappoint.

The Last Fairyland

Memories of Old Beijing: the swirling, stone fairytale bridges of Beihai, crossing over crystal clear lagoons of budding flowers and jeweled rocks. People pace on the hillside, reading from the classics, while children run and hide in the caves beneath, playing hide and seek from their shadows. A long corridor of brightly painted wood shadows them as the readers descend from the hill, where they sit and watch the small waves curling in the vast lake beyond, little boats dotting the water like intrepid explorers. This is Beihai, the treasure land of Beijing.

I am walking up the hill, toward the towering and bulbous White Dagoba, the crown of a four hundred year old temple that was built from the lakeside to the top of the hill. There is a slight moment of vertigo, as the zigzagging stairs sway a bit, but I regain myself and continue the hike. Green, foudroyant sabina trees, strong and tall, shadow the staircase as I ascend, and fleeting birds dart from the tops of the trees. I am a little tired, after spending all morning wandering the halls of the Forbidden City, but being here in the middle of wildlife and quietude refreshes me.

I have spent the greater part of two weeks trying to find a picnic spot in Beijing. While it is not uncommon to see people eating happily away on the sidewalk of a busy street with a kebob of charred lamb between their teeth, I would hardly call that a picnic. A picnic is a time of joy and serenity, sitting on a mat while surrounded by beauty, letting the feelings of the day wash away while eating with family and friends. It seems I found the perfect place. As I walk up the hill, everyone is eating: there are five people sitting next to the temple wall with a bucket of fried chicken; further up there is a couple with a child eating some sausages and oranges. While there are no tables, people have turned the hillside into a dining room, leaning on trees, unwrapping sandwiches and perching themselves on smooth rocks, while sitting red tea and sending their gaze across the city. The whole island seems to be a giant picnic table, in the kindest and most beautiful sense of the word.

The view is incredible from the top. I recall the vistas of Anacortes, of northern Washington, with flourishing green islands amid ships and boats dotting the sea, tiny stars in a vast sky. This hillside used to be covered in a giant palace, once upon a time. Kublai Khan, during his reign as Emperor, built a wonderland called the Palace of the Moon (Guanghaidian), where he entertained visitors, and even entertained Marco Polo when the Italian came to visit China. Today the palace is gone, having been destroyed in an earthquake, and during the Ming dynasty the Yong’an Buddhist temple was built in its place, meant to honor a visiting Tibetan lama. During that same time, the Emperor Qianlong had a Rosetta-like stele erected on the hillside, which included Han, Manchurian, Mongolian, and Tibetan languages.

Descending the hill puts me in a kind of euphoria. I don’t realize until I have paid the small three yuan fee for a system of caves that labyrinths the entire northern part of the island, and find myself face-to-face with grim-faced bodhisattvas and craggy walls, little slits of light filtering in to light up the wry grins of these venerable holy men. They frighten me a little, but only a little. There is only so much a little clay man can do. I imagine myself as a little child racing through the caves, while my parents sit together on the crest of the hill sipping tea. It is all too reminiscent of Tom Sawyer’s Island.

At the bottom of the hill, pink, budding bunge flowers poke out from the ground, and the smell of mint-like sorboria fills the area. There are couples sitting by the lakeside on benches, hand in hand, watching the boats drift by. The Fangshan restaurant, famous for their Qing dynasty dishes, stands awkwardly out of time, and an imperial painted boat floats by, filled with Sunday families.

I make my way back to the entrance of the park, walking past the boating docks of floating paddle-boats and old rowboats. I would like to come back here someday and try them out. It looks fun.

The Circular City (Tuancheng), the ancient capital of the Yuan dynasty, confronts me as I exit the park. Once an island of pine trees, it later became an Imperial Palace, and then was destroyed when the Eight-Power Allied Forces entered Beijing. This surprises me: not even the might of the rest of the world was able to shake it, and while it was destroyed, it was again rebuilt and stands once more at the exit of this fairyland, once upon a time a model of where the gods were supposed to have lived.

Beihai, for thousands of years, has been a place of relaxation, thinking, and joy for the people of Beijing. Throughout the dynasties it was used as a pleasure palace for the rich and noble; then in the 20th century it became a place for revolutionary thinkers and reactionaries; finally in the 21st century, it has become a family paradise. No matter where you go, it is that small part of Beijing that has always spoken in a small voice to the heart of people, and been a place of meditation and contemplation. Even as a foreigner, it appeals to me a place of bursting creativity and reformed passions. This continues to mull through my head as I head into a taxi, and see the last mists of the lake disappear as the busyness of the streets rise into life.

Shadows of the Queen

“How much farther?” she asks me, her breath already starting to sound heavy. The air is thinner up here, and the cars less. A few pedestrians pace on the sidewalk, while a gentle evening breeze comes on, racing through the shadows of skyscrapers.

“I can see it, up there,” or at least I think I see the building. In truth, there are so many trees and buildings blocking the view, it’s hard to tell if the building up ahead is actually the tram center for Victoria Peak. We decided to take the Mid-Levels tour, a staggering 800 meter-long escalator that runs up the belly of Victoria Peak from the sea. It was mostly because last time we were in Hong Kong we wanted to go on the legendary stairway, but we failed to find the entrance.

However, this trip didn’t turn out much better. I look up to the mountain and see the giant square building that looks out on the horizon from the summit, and wonder if we will ever get there before the sun sets. We are wandering in the upper levels of the city, a dizzying blur of restaurants, rising streets, and apartment buildings that rise like dirks into the murky sky.

At least we managed to find the entrance. Located squarely at Central Station, one need only follow the elevated platform towards the mountain and then… walk up.

 

The island of Cheung Chau is a dream. We sit at a seaside restaurant, listening to the sounds of the waves lap against the anchored boats. The ferry that goes from Central Station to the island is setting out, leaving a wide wake that causes several of the neighboring boats to dangerous teeter to one side. It was an inexpensive and relaxing ride, taking about a half-hour. I spent a long time just sitting quietly and listening to the sound of the waves.

Cheung Chau is an island steeped in mystery and intrigue. Home to the famous Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave, it once was the Tortuga of Asia, being a safe bastion for hundreds of ships, and about 20,000 pirates. They were under the command of a warlord named “The Kid,” who harassed Qing dynasty officials for years until he was offered a position in the government, when he relented of his ways and became an enforcer against piracy. The unique shape of the island provided that the pirates could anchor their boats on the opposite side, and the heavy mist that often cloaks the area provided for an almost unstoppable army.

The island is also famous to having an enormous number of dogs, many of them wild. When we took our walk to the Cheung Po Tsai cave later that afternoon, we passed by a group of dogs that were hiding out in a local cemetery. They approached us, and we froze, feeling like wolf meat. However, they merely crossed the road and disappeared into the jungle, and we continued on our way.

 

The sun has nearly set; we are now climbing. Somewhere down the road we missed the tram, and every now and then we can see it climbing the green hills toward the Peak. The road has risen to about a thirty degree angle, and we are putting everything into just staying balanced. The roads in Cheung Chau were much nicer; as we scaled the hills of the island, we were walking through a fairyland of luxurious abodes, a literal amalgamation of British architectural styles reminiscent of Tianjin. Here, finally on the Mid-Levels, the multi-million dollar apartments rise high above our heads and disappear into the mist, the tops covered by gray fog and burning electric lights.

“There!” I proclaim, and then with a sinking feeling realize what is ahead.

She looks at me, sweet as anything. I’m not sure she knows what I’m putting her through. This was supposed to be a romantic outing, but it’s turning out to be worse than a high school P.E. Class.

As the road ends, a trail begins. We step over the chain and find ourselves looking at an even steeper incline.

“Is this ok?” I am exasperated. Such an ordeal, but what seems like just a simple request: see the top of Victoria Peak, but rather than going on the usual tourist buses, find our own way there. Such idealism seems to have gotten us into a bit of trouble.

She smiles. “Let’s go!” I admire her optimism.

As we scale the mountain, the barking of dogs echo across the hills. The Mid-Levels are home to some of the most expensive homes in the world, at least for their miniature size. Millionaires are lucky to own a single flat. Much of the upper-class Hong Kong citizens employ workers from the Philippines as maids, and own a dog or two. We didn’t know it at the time, but discovered later that this was a secret trail known to the owners of those dogs and their dog-walkers, as they were the only hikers we met on the trail. That, and the sound of our feet.

 

Two days before we were scaling a different kind of mountain. Located in the furthest south you can go in Hong Kong near the city of Aberdeen, Ocean Park is an amusement park known for two things: an endangered species zoo/aquarium, as well as roller coasters that not only have awesome speeds and hills, but are built in Hong Kong-style: into the hills.

Riding on a 1.5 kilometer gondola cable-car system takes fun-goers from one end of the park to the other, scaling a high mountain with an unprecedented view, and letting people off near the summit, where they must climb down to either the rides portion of the park (which also houses a number of aquariums) or make their way through a series of labyrinthine escalators to the lower parking lot.

The top of the park gives a great view of Aberdeen, as well as the vast sea that spreads out to the south. At the low price of about 240 Hong Kong dollars (that’s about 31 US dollars) the trip was one of our most memorable, viewing giant pandas, riding roller coasters, and taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful panoramas on the island.

 

The sun has set. As we climbed through verdant woods, the sun set into the horizon and fell below the sea. We climbed high enough to across the tops of the Mid-Level apartments, witnessing light fall on their side and turn into a kaleidoscope of steel and glass.

It’s windy on the peak, but we’ve found shelter at the top of the mall, where the only sound is the air whistling through our jackets. It’s beautiful here; the night sky has made it clear it will not be held back by modern technologies, with stars glimmering above our heads, shining through sparse clouds.

The horizon of Hong Kong is glorious, and it’s no wonder why it is memorable. We hold hands and look out across a sea of lights, until they are swallowed up in darkness.

Orcs in the CBD

I stepped through the portal and felt an ethereal sense wash over me, as if I had donned a new skin and personality. There were dragons playing among waterfalls and sharp crags before me, and I could hear the sound of battle-axes and war cries from the distance. A faint green hue flooded the room, giving the walls an ancient, decrepit look. Painted onto the walls was an elaborate mural showcasing a great war between men, beasts, and even fouler things, with magical energies swirling about their strange horned mounts and a sky torn open by a rift. Before I could take another step into the maelstrom, however, a waitress cheerfully greeted me and asked me how many to seat.

Welcome to Azeroth. Or Beijing. Anyways, what’s the difference?

I suppose China is famous for their themed restaurants. There is that one restaurant near my house that is Mao-flavored, with a giant portrait of the great leader looming over every table, and little red flags draped across the railings like a parade. Then there is the Mexican cantina, complete with Gaudi lanterns and long, pitted wooden tables full of beer and popping fajitas. Near the Yonghe Gong Temple, there is a small dive called The Rive (clever, being that it overlooks a canal) with long couches, fruity icees, and art books and magazines shelved into deep-brown shelves, just like an old college locale. I think, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a World of Warcraft restaurant, inspired by the famous online computer game. It was an experience, no doubt, that I will want to try again, just for the sheer audacity of it.

The menu was a colorful selection of dishes from the game. Just to prove their point that these were really Azeroth dishes (Azeroth is the game world), below each featured dish is a picture of a character actually hunting down the particular foul magical beastie, and then a beautiful photo of the cooked creature, with salivating spices and colors to match. The price for the food was also very decent, being that the dishes that are prepared are so unique. I believe my favorite dish was the plate of lamb-something-or-other, that was basically a plate piled high with lamb tenderly cooked still on the bone.

The owner was kind enough to sit down and have a chat with me. Yuan Yuan and his partner, Tao, started the restaurant a mere two months ago, after they had been burned out selling Olympic souvenirs and made enough money to actually, “do what they wanted to do, and just have fun.” They wanted a place to make their dreams of playing the game a reality, and also give other players a chance to not only immerse themselves in the culture of the game, but connect with each other on a real level, meet each other, get together for special gatherings, and even find love. Once a month, the World of Warcraft restaurant has a Cosplay gathering, when players can come to eat and party with their friends dressed up as their heroes from the game. Already there have been several romances that have gone that extra mile, thanks to Yuan Yuan and Tao’s efforts to host these special gatherings.

After our conversation, Yuan Yuan took me around the restaurant and allowed me to take some pictures, showing me the mural his friend painted, that even showcased his cousin and his cousin’s wife on the wall (as their characters, of course, in heroic repose), as well as the many friends who have come and given their pictures to the walls of the restaurant. The restaurant also features computers with World of Warcraft loaded on them that customers are free to play on (as long as they have an account for the game). Finally, he took me to a special part of the wall where players post messages to each other, a community board of hellos and requests to meet up in the game sometime.

As a night out, it truly was a unique one, “Blizzard Restaurant” will be hard to forget. You can find the World of Warcraft restaurant by taking the Line 2 subway to Chaoyang Men, and then taking bus 846 to the Gaojing Baiyun Shichang (高井白云市场), or taking the Line 1 subway to Sihui Dong and then taking bus 648 or 488 to the same stop (or alternatively, taking a cab to the address). My suggestion, if you’d like to save about 50-90 kuai. Once you find the Baiyun Shichang, the restaurant is located through the front gate, at the back. It is visible from the street, with a very long sign and a number of orcs looking very happy with some very sharp weapons.

Address: 暴雪餐厅:朝阳路高井白云市场内 Tel: 8576-8949 (local Beijing number)

Price range: Dishes cost anywhere from 10 kuai to 50 kuai, on your fancy. Some are more.

Postmodern Fantasy Literature: an overview of contemporary ideas

Lecture Goal: Give a broad view of contemporary American fantasy literature and where the ideas came from

 

1. Sword and sorcery in the 30s-60s, based on Weird Tales and Lord of the Rings

Weird Tales in the 1920s, born from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu)

Fantasy, horror, myth, and swordplay – Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard

Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the idea of true adventure, from Conan

 

2. Heroic fantasy and dark magic in the 70s, 80s and 90s, based on Dungeons and Dragons (1975)

Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone, combination of heroic myth and popular fantasy

Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber, and castles, dungeons, monsters and sorcerors

Tanith Lee, emergence of dark fantasy based on authors like Mervyne Peake with Gormenghast

Emergence of allegory, deep symbolism and heavy themes with Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and Patricia McKillip (Riddle-Master)

 

3. The American-style journey novel in the 90s and 2000s, based on The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and the journey novel “Wheel of Time”

Terry Goodkind and the emergence of Mass-produced epic fantasy

George R.R. Martin, the anti-Lord of the Rings, beginning of the New Weird with China Mieville

 

4. Urban fantasy novels in post-2000 era, based on Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and urban fantasy

Anne Rice to Laurell K. Hamilton, and contemporary urban vampires and faeries, Wiccan stories

The Fantastic City and the New Weird, with China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer

 

5. Literary fantasy

Breaking out of the genre, with Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower, combining different forms

The movement of fantasy to break free from genre

 

Questions to ask at the end:

1) What was the first magazine to have sword and sorcery? 6) Where does Harry Potter take place?

2) Who created Fafhrd? 7) What is the religion about magic?

3) What was the game that inspired heroic fantasy? 8) What old idea does urban fantasy use?

4) The Wheel of Time was what kind of novel? 9) What did Octavia Butler break out of?

5) What happened to fantasy novels after Terry Goodkind? 10) What is current fantasy literature trying to do?

 

words to put on the board:

contemporary fantasy

 

Edgar Allen Poe

H.P. Lovecraft

Cthulhu

Barbarian

Invented world

Sword and Sorcery

Weird Tales

Lord of the Rings

Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone

Dungeons and Dragons

Amber

Tanith Lee

Mervyn Peake

Gormenghast

Ursula LeGuin

Patricia McKillip

Riddle-Master

 

Journey novel

The Wheel of Time

Mass-production

New Weird

China Mieville

 

Harry Potter

urban fantasy

Vampires

Fairy/faerie

Wicca

Otherworld

Jeff VanderMeer

 

Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

Literary fantasy

Genre

The Prodigal Son of Jixian

The Prodigal Son of Jixian is a play I wrote back in 2008, for a show my then-school (New Century Language and Culture Center) put on to showcase student talent in speaking the Chinese language. I wrote this basic script, and then each student performing in the play took his or her lines and translated those lines into Chinese, and then our troupe performed the play for the school.

This play is roughly based off of the Biblical parable, “the prodigal son,” although deviates a bit as this story takes place around the turn of the new millennium in China.

 

The Prodigal Son of Jixian

Characters

Narrator: (8 parts)

Father: (26 lines)

Older Daughter: (15 lines)

Younger Son: (21 lines)

Contractor: (6 lines)

Fast Blaze/Ms. Liu: (12 lines)

Wild Kitty/Ms. Chen: (8 lines)

 

Prologue The Prodigal Son

(Enter Narrator)

NARRATOR: Welcome to our play. Some of you have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son. Tonight we give you the story with new clothes. Our story begins in Jixian, near the city of Tianjin, with a businessman and his two children, an older daughter and his younger, impatient son. The older daughter helps her father everyday, cleaning the home, cooking food, and taking care of household business, but the younger son plays everyday, not listening to his father or his sister, returning home late in the evening, and spending his father’s money. He does not go to school, but spends his days at the internet café, playing games and smoking cigarettes. This is the story of his life. This is the story of how he became a good man.

 

Act 1 Leaving Jixian

(Enter Father and Daughter. Daughter is just doing some housework, and Father is arriving home from work.)

DAUGHTER: Good evening, Dad. How was work?

FATHER: Good. That young man from your college came to visit. Do you remember him? The handsome one?

DAUGHTER (exasperated): Oh, please, Dad. You know I don’t have time for that. Everything I do here, with Mom gone…

FATHER: Fine, fine. Have you seen your brother around? I need to tell him something.

DAUGHTER: He’s been gone all day. He left this morning, said he was going outside to smoke. He has not returned home yet.

FATHER: You don’t know where he went?

DAUGHTER: He’s probably at that internet bar, the Great Wall Café.

FATHER: Go down there are tell him to come home for dinner. I have something important to say to both of you.

DAUGHTER: Yes, Dad.

(Exit Father)

(Enter Son)

 

NARRATOR: That evening, the older daughter went to the internet café. Her brother was sleeping next to a pile of cigarettes. She told him to wake up, but he refused. She was very angry. She slapped him and carried him home. His eyes were very red, and he was not in a good mood. The family sat down for dinner.

 

(Enter Father. The family is sitting down for a nice dinner.)

FATHER: Next week, because of the holiday, my workers are going back to their hometowns. Because it will be a very busy week for travel, we can go to see your Aunt in the mountains.

DAUGHTER: That is great! I miss her so much. Is Cousin Li going to come home from Beijing?

FATHER: I heard, but I do not know. He is very busy. He has a really great job, you know.

SON: I’m not going.

FATHER: Of course you are going. What are you going to do here? You need some mountain air.

SON: I’m not going.

DAUGHTER: You’re crazy! Everyday you spend our money, eat our food, but do nothing! You don’t go to school, you don’t work, and you’re lazy.

FATHER: Please, daughter, he is still very young.

SON: I’m leaving.

FATHER: See? I told you. He is already growing up.

SON: You. I’m leaving you. I’m leaving Jixian. I’m leaving this house, and this stupid family.

FATHER: What?

SON: I have friends in Shanghai.

DAUGHTER: They are his internet friends, Dad. He doesn’t know their real names.

SON: I want my money, and I want the car. It’s mine, anyways, you bought it for me.

DAUGHTER: If you graduate from school, but you have never gone to class!

FATHER: It’s ok, daughter. This is his decision.

SON: I am leaving tonight.

FATHER: Be safe, son.

(Exit Father and Daughter)

 

Act II In Shanghai

NARRATOR: That evening, his son drove to Shanghai. It was a long drive, but the son finally felt happy. Finally, he could do as his pleased. No domineering sister, no one telling him what to do. No old father, no dead mother. And money, lots and lots of money. He felt like a king. He would become a king. The king of Shanghai.

 

(Enter Fast Blaze)

FAST: Hey, buddy. What’s up?

SON: Are you Fast Blaze? From the Superman Chat?

FAST: Yeah, buddy. You want to go have some fun?

SON: Yeah!

FAST: You got cash?

SON: I’m loaded!

FAST: Great, really great. Follow me…

 

NARRATOR: The two new friends went out into the night. They gambled at the best places, smoked at the richest bars, drove down the fastest streets. They were children of the night, and they were happy. That night they found a hotel, and they slept at the top of the hotel. They watched TV all night, ate the most expensive food, and when the morning came, they slept all day. That night they met Wild Kitty.

 

(Enter Wild Kitty)

KITTY: Hey, Blaze.

FAST: Hey Kitty.

KITTY: Who is this guy?

FAST: This is “Prodigal”. Remember? He’s the guy from Jixian with the rich Dad.

KITTY: Hey, Prodigal! You’re here! So great! You want to have some fun?

SON: Yeah! Is that possible?

KITTY: I got a place in Shanghai. You can make money fast. Lots of money. Important guys come to my place. If they like you, you might get a job for them, and make more money. What do you think?

SON: This is more than my Dad ever gave me. This is so great.

(Exit Wild Kitty and Fast Blaze)

 

NARRATOR: The son joined Wild Kitty’s company. He worked hard and made lots of money. He spent money fast, bought houses, cars, love, everything he ever wanted. He was at the top of the world. Then one day, everything died.

 

(Enter Son. He is groggy and lying on the ground.)

(Enter Blaze. She looks angry. She walks over and kicks the Son.)

FAST: Hey! Where’s my money?!

SON: What? Where? What’s going on?

FAST: Where’s my money? You owe me 40,000 kuai! Last week I told you to pay up, or else I’d kill you!

SON: Wait! I’ve got your money right here…

(He looks in his pants, but his wallet is gone.)

My wallet, my money, it’s all gone…

FAST: I should kill you because of that! But I’m a generous woman. But don’t think you can work on these streets anymore. You will never again be able to get a job in this city. Leave, disappear, I don’t care. I don’t want to see your face again.

(Exit Fast)

 

Narrator: The son knew he had problems. He started to beg on the streets for money, but when no one would look at him, he started stealing food from trashcans. One day he saw himself in a mirror and started to cry. He stood up and took a job at as a city worker, making streets in the hot sun, wearing broken shoes. Everyday his body became black, and at night he slept on the ground with other dirty men who stayed up all night drinking. After six months of working, he still had not received any money, so he went to see his boss.

 

(Enter Contractor)

SON: Hey, Boss.

CONTRACTOR: Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?

SON: Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, please forgive your stupid worker, but your worker wanted to ask you a stupid question.

CONTRACTOR: I’m a busy woman! Ask me now.

SON: When do I get paid?

CONTRACTOR: Paid? You want money?

(She laughs.)

You see all those other men? You think they have money? You’re all the same. Don’t forget it.

SON: But the job…

CONTRACTOR: Where do you think you are? You are lucky to have a job and food to eat. Don’t come to me with your problems. You think I have money? I have no money! You think you have problems? I have problems!

(The contractor is getting a little angry.)

You workers, you are all the same. Give us money, give us food. There isn’t enough! If you don’t like it, go home, go back to the farm. Eat your own tomatoes! Don’t beg me for mine!

SON: Terribly sorry, please excuse your stupid worker.

(Exit Contractor)

 

Act III The Return

NARRATOR: The son looked into his own heart and finally understood what he must do. He must return to his father and ask for forgiveness, and become his worker to pay off his debt. That was the only way he could become a good man. Soon, the son left his job, and got on a train to return home. However, because he had no money, he had to hide in the train, but when he was found, he had to find another train or another bus, or a stranger to take him in his truck. It took him many days to return home. And then one day, he saw his home. He felt so sad, but he knew what he must do.

 

(Enter Father)

FATHER: My son! My son!

(He runs out to embrace him.)

SON (weeping and kneeling before him): I am sorry, father. No, do not call me your son. I am a stupid, stupid man. I lost all your money, I lost your car, I lost your face. I am nothing. I only ask you to let me work for you as a worker, and I will give you all your money back.

FATHER: Ms. Chen!

(Enter Ms. Chen)

Bring my best jacket. Ms. Liu!

(Enter Ms. Liu)

Prepare dinner immediately, and call all the family! We are going to have a great feast!

SON: I don’t understand…

FATHER: You are returned my son. Please come inside and rest until dinner.

(Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen make preparations for the feast.)

(Exit Father and Son)

 

NARRATOR: That evening, the father put on a huge feast. Tables and tables of food, music and songs for the guests, and the son seated at the front of the table. His father was so happy seeing him sitting there, smiling like the sun. The Daughter, meanwhile, was working late at the office. As she came home, she heard the music and saw the lights of the feast.

 

(Enter Daughter)

DAUGHTER: What is going on?

CHEN: Your brother has returned.

DAUGHTER: My brother…

LIU: Your father prepared a huge feast and invited all the family. We tried to call you, but your phone was turned off.

DAUGHTER: I was at the office…

my brother is home? He has been in Shanghai for two years. He never called, never sent a letter, and my father invites all the family for a big feast?

CHEN: Just go in, Miss. He will be happy to see you.

DAUGHTER: I will not.

LIU (to Ms. Chen): His children are all the same.

(Daughter storms out.)

 

(Enter Father.)

FATHER: Was that my daughter?

CHEN: Yes, it was. She went out to the garden.

FATHER: What was wrong? I heard yelling.

LIU: She was angry, sir.

FATHER: Angry? Why?

CHEN: She’s not far.

FATHER: I’ll talk to her. You two go inside and serve the guests.

(Exit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen)

 

(Enter Daughter)

FATHER: Daughter, what is wrong?

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to talk about it.

FATHER: Is it because of your brother?

(She is silent.)

Don’t you understand? He has come home!

DAUGHTER (in anger): I have given this home everything! I have given you everything! You have never given me a feast, you have never even given me a party! But this stupid boy, who stole your money, your car, our family’s respect, he comes back and you throw him the biggest party of the year! I knew you loved him more than me when you gave him the car, but now…

FATHER: Oh, daughter… everything I have is yours. My love I give you, my home I give you, you are the best dream an old man can wish for. But your brother, he died when he left, do you see? We lost him. He died…

(Pause for dramatic impact.)

but now he is alive. Come to the feast, and see him. Eat with us, because he was lost, but now, he is found.

Summoner: a card game using a traditional poker deck

This game pits two magicians against each other. They have the power to throw spells at each other, or to summon monsters to their side. This game follows the elemental pattern found in the game ELEMENT*, but with the exception that it is a duel, not a race.

Any royal card can be combined with one element card. Each royal has a different defense: Jack (10), Queen (11), King (12), Ace (x2 of coupled card), and Joker (5 defense) (x2 attack). They have the benefit of being permanent cards and not simple spells, yet they can also die. Once attached to an element, they cannot be re-attached.

Players start at 100 life.

Any number (up to five) of element cards can be combined into a spell (if they are combinable). The defender can defend if he has the proper defense cards.

Player may either cast spell or attack for move.

Spells and creatures are different. Spells can directly attack the player, whereas creatures must attack creatures first.

If a card is stolen by opponent, it is always shown. If put into play, it is horizontal, not vertical.

Players may block attacks with spells, just as they can block spells with spells. Players may have ten cards in their hand. There are special creatures, which have unique powers.

*The following map shows which elements have mastery over which elements.  Players can designate spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts to whichever elements they desire.  Water and Earth are compatible, as are Air and Fire.

Water Fire

Fire Earth

Earth Air

Air Water

Creatures

K Q J A Jo Name Def. +Att. Special
RULERS
2 Emperor 24 12
2 Empress 22 11
2 Overlord 20 10
2 Ranger *3 *2-5
2 Prophet 10 *3
MINOR DEITIES
3 Dragon King 36 24
3 Horned Queen 33 22
3 Beast 30 20
3 Shambler *4 *3-5
MAJOR DEITIES
4 God 48 36
4 Goddess 44 33
4 Angel 40 30
4 Titan *5 *4
KING
1 1 Spirit 15 Possess enemy creature, one attack after possession, death to spirit
2 1 Poltergeist 20 Sacrifice to render enemy creature catatonic for 5 rounds
3 1 Vampire 10 Turns element cards into separate creatures, who die when v. dies
4 1 Necromancer 15 Same as above, except creatures do not die with necromancer
3 2 Eldar 20 Same as vampire
4 2 Dark Lord 25 Same as necromancer
4 3 Dark Emperor 30 Like necromancer; can transform creatures into elemental spells
1 1 Warlord 18 +1 to all allies
2 1 Barbarian 25 20 Splash damage
3 1 Conqueror 35 20 -1 defense/attack on defending creatures
3 2 Eternal Warrior 30 25 2 lives
4 1 Commander 40 10 +1 to all allies, -1 to all enemies
4 2 Lord 50 10 Same as commander
4 3 Shōgun 60 10 Same as commander except +2 allies, -2 enemies
1 1 Thief 10 Steal 1 card from opponent’s hand and put immediately into play
2 1 Gambit 15 Look at opponent’s hand
3 1 Cardshark 20 Force opponent to get a new hand
3 2 Wormtongue 25 Trade hands with opponent; both visible
4 1 Morning Sword 1 Give to creature, +10 att.
4 2 Zenith Knife 1 Give to creature, +20 att.
4 3 Dusk Blade 1 Give to creature, +30 att.
1 1 Priest 10 Raises fallen companion but is sacrificed/creature goes to hand
2 1 Bishop 15 Same as priest
3 1 Cardinal 20 Same as priest
3 2 Black Cardinal 20 10 Same as priest
4 1 Pope 30 Raises fallen companion
4 2 Black Pope 30 10 Same as Pope
QUEEN
1 1 Spirit
1 2 Wisp 1 Sacrifice self to block spell/attack
1 3 Will O’Wisp 1 Sacrifice self to reflect damage from spell/attack
2 3 Whisper 1 Sacrifice self to convert damage into healing from spell/attack
1 4 Way 1 Sacrifice self to heal +10
2 4 Weirding Way 1 Sacrifice self to heal +20
3 4 Ghostling 1 Sacrifice self to heal +30
1 1 Courtesan 10 Keep eleven cards in hand
2 1 Mistress 15 Keep twelve cards in hand
3 1 Concubine 20 Keep thirteen cards in hand
3 2 Royal Concubine 25 Keep fourteen cards in hand
4 1 Muse 30 Keep fifteen cards in hand
4 2 Beauty 35 Non-queen creatures cannot attack
4 3 Succubus 40 Non-queen creatures must attack next available turn and after, are buried
1 1 Amazon 20 Attack twice in one round
2 1 Siren 15 Next non-queen creature who attacks dies after attack
3 1 Medusa 15 Paralyzes target non-queen creature for 1 round
3 2 Witch 10 Change element of player attacking card (1 card)
4 1 Silver Band 1 Give to creature, +5 def., +5 att.
4 2 Golden Band 1 Give to creature, +10 def., +10 att.
4 3 Mithril Band 1 Give to creature, +15 def., +15 att.
1 1 Priestess 10 Cast similar element card as healing to creature after battle to prevent death (if possible)
2 1 High Priestess 15 Cast similar element as self to heal player (not a creature)
3 1 Sacrifice 1 Sacrifice self to resurrect fallen creature into battle
3 2 Holy Sacrifice 1 Sacrifice self to resurrect three creatures into battle
4 1 Minstrel Permanent +5 att. and +5 def. to all creatures on battlefield
4 2 Bard Permanent +10 att. and +10 def. to all creatures on battlefield
JACK
1 1 Warlord
1 2 Swordsman 20 5 Attacks first
1 3 Grenadier 1 25 Boom damage; sacrifice
2 3 Boom Daddy 20 10 Boom damage; non-sacrifice
1 4 Berserker 30 20 Must attack every round
2 4 Champion 45 25 Must attack highest creature
3 4 Prince 65 35 Can only attack if watches King die in battle; berserker
1 1 Courtesan
1 2 Sword-Maiden 15 5 Attacks first
1 3 Shield-Maiden 50
2 3 Messenger 20 *2 Attacks first
1 4 Severant 10 While in play, causes linked enemy creature to turn on owner
2 4 Splitter 10 Any enemy creature to attack loses half attack and defense
3 4 Sleeper 10 Forces enemy creature asleep; creature dies in 5 rounds if not woken
1 1 Archer 15 5 Attacks two simultaneous targets
2 1 Knifer 10 10 Dodges physical attacks
3 1 Bladesinger 15 10 Any creature receiving damage cannot act for one round
3 2 Shadow N/A Takes on attributes of enemy creature; if creature dies, shadow dies
4 1 Glorious Armor 1 Give to creature, +10 def.
4 2 Heaven Armor 1 Give to creature, +20 def.
4 3 Starlight Armor 1 Give to creature, +30 def.
1 1 Herald 10 Both players may look at the next five cards in their decks
2 1 Missionary 10 Change element of enemy creature
3 1 Blessing 10 Sacrifice to change all presently played cards to specific element
3 2 Prophecy 10 Control opponent’s next move; sacrifice Prophecy
4 1 Minor Elemental *4 *4
4 2 Major Elemental *5 *5
ACE
1 1 Thief
1 2 Hero 50 40 Only lasts one round
1 3 Merchant 10 Trades elements between creatures
2 3 Blinder 10 Nullifies target creature’s attack for 3 rounds
1 4 Studded Crown 1 Give to King, +20 def., +20 att.
2 4 Thorned Crown 1 Give to King, +30 def., +30 att.; dies in three rounds
3 4 Banded Crown 1 Give to King, +40 def., +40 att.; if opponent casts same element spell beyond 10 damage, King perishes
1 1 Amazon
1 2 Slave 10 Links to target creature; boosts +10 att., +10 def.; if creature dies, is captured
1 3 Mother 20 Each player round, has a child (5/5); must be coupled with a male
2 3 Teacher 10 Each round, can add +1 att. +1 def. to target creature (permanent)
1 4 Robe of Chains 1 Give to Queen, +50 def., +50 att.; cannot attack
2 4 Silk Robe 1 Give to Queen, dodges all physical attacks, but def. -5
3 4 Jeweled Robe 1 Give to Queen, cannot be attacked by non-queen creatures; +10 def.
1 1 Archer
1 2 Gunslinger 20 Has six bullets (+5 att.); can choose to fire as many as wanted
1 3 Obsession 1 Give to creature, takes either att. or def. and adds it to the other side, save 1 point
2 3 Poet 10 Sacrifices self to write libel poem, forcing enemy to skip one turn
1 4 Knife Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, +30 att., damages player by 5 every attack
2 4 Crystal Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, +10 def., +10 att.; gauntlets shatter after 2 rounds
3 4 Glowing Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, *4 att., then *3 att., then *2 att., and only +10 att.
1 1 Comedian 10 Neither player may physically attack while in play
2 1 Pop Star 10 Opponent cannot physically attack while in play
3 1 Cosmic Wind 10 Sacrifices self to give +25 att., +25 def. to all creatures in play
3 2 Dark Wind 10 Sacrifices self to wipe battlefield clean of all creatures
4 1 Memory 10 Sacrifices self to give both players the same health, using a rounded (up) average of both
4 2 Apology 10 Sacrifices self to bring both players back to 100 life
PHANTASMS
2 2 Roc 50 *4 Roc must be the only creature in play to attack or defend
2 2 Pegasus 20 15 Cannot attack; if linked with Hero, Hero is unblockable
2 2 Werewolf 30 20 Can only be killed by an ace creature; can only attack, cannot defend
2 2 Manticore 20 Poisonous attack; enemy loses 1 life every round, even after Manticore dies; poison counters can be stacked
2 2 Unicorn 25 25 Sacrifice self to resurrect dying (killed in play with unicorn) creature; automatically heals +10/round
2 2 Minotaur 35 20 Attack first
2 2 Sphinx 5 Cannot be vanquished except by a single deity (Major); otherwise, every player round one enemy creature dies
2 2 Hydra 10/10 Counts as two creatures; if both are not destroyed, then one destroyed becomes two more, etc.
2 2 Jabberwocky 21 Attacks five times
2 2 Phoenix Cannot die except by a water deity (Major); while in play, creatures cannot die; every 5 rounds, 1 round powers disappear
3 3 Gargoyle 35 20 Can only attack in player phase; only defend in opponent phase
3 3 Centipede 50 25 Can only be killed by being down to 1 life, then being hit by a spell
3 3 Vilkacis 40 30 Opposite of werewolf; can only defend
3 3 Firebird 10 Heals all players by +10 each round
3 3 Bolla 25 5 Devours target creature
3 3 Fenrir 45 35 Can be bound by fusion of earth, fire, air, and water elements in a spell (5 rounds)
4 4 Basilisk 10 Any creature attacking it dies immediately; spells cast by enemy cause them to lose 20 life; can also be destroyed by abilities
4 4 Jormungand 55 40 While in play, both players suffer -5 poison/round; air does *4 damage against him
4 4 Surt 50 35 Must be equipped with fire element; global boom damage
4 4 Echidna 20 20 Every round spawns a 15/15 creature, until 6 are spawned
4 4 Kulshedra 50 45 Only accessible if Bolla in game for 12 rounds and queen and ace added to Bolla for mutation
4 4 Lotan *7 *7 Cannot attack; while in play, water element is nullified

 

Xun, Dreaming of Lost Names

I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife.

“The present passes step by step,” Lu Xun states, meditating on the temporal, changing, and suffering nature of the world. Relaxing with my wife and son by Weiming Hu in the shadow of Ciji Temple, I am swept in the immediacy and evolution of moments, as if the passing of people through the reflection on the lake were a mirror to another world where time could be rewound and marched backwards. The remaining walls of Ciji Temple show that the present world is unrelenting; pockmarked and fading paint the only memories of her fabled past, when people would stoop by the stone altars and press flame and smoke into their hopes and dreams.

Overlooking a pond while standing on a lotus-pod bridge, I cannot agree with Lu Xun about the suffering of the world. Lily-pads float on the surface of the water, and tiny skittering waterhoppers bounce across the translucent surface, living in an impossible dream of speed and haze. The reflections of the terraced rocks and spaces of rippling blue skies to the small creatures are not the only constants; for a good portion of their life, my figure standing on the lotus-pod bridge becomes an anchor to them, much like watching a tree grow, strengthen against the wind, and shed yellow leaves in autumn. Suffering is inconsequential to the process of time, existing only as a cloud marking the passage of life from one evolution into the next.

If suffering is an inconstant spouse, of what use is education? Learning is the process of uncovering truths, not only about the world but about ourselves. Students are the phalanx of learning, charging forward bravely into the unknown with no expectations. Lu Xun described the brave students of Peking University as “tolling alone in the caverns of wind and dust deep at the bottom of the sea,” and in my mind looking at the surface of the lake from beneath, I begin to understand his meaning. The waterhoppers cause ripples in the water, and the image of Ciji Temple shudders, the red walls and carved altars shrugging as if held by a fierce wind. As I rise to the surface of the water, images between the past and the present shift into one: mendicants kneeling by curls of gray smoke and scholars in long robes are replaced by the sound of a bicycle bell and the flash of a camera.

Emerging from the lake, the world has changed: sky-tall construction cranes towering behind green mesh shielding shoot dust into the sky, students with golden cards rush by with apocalyptic fear pressed into their cheeks, multinational sandwich kiosks hide behind forgotten and overgrown gardens, and an electric buzz permeates the ether: the sound of oil burned into flame and lightning humming through crisscrossed optical pathways. And yet, although the future has arrived I find myself on the dry shore, smiling and viewing the landscape with pride and joy, much unlike the dismal parades of Lu Xun’s dread and phantasmagoria.

Lu Xun always believed that the goal of education was to be “properly adapted to the individual to develop each person’s personality,” and everyday our society seems to be moving closer and closer to this tenable dream. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to pass, but we are on our way. “I am living among men,” Lu Xun remarks when reflecting on his proud time at Peking University, as his students gave him the hope to press forward, even in the dismal hour of warlords and massacres. Our times are lighter and more hopeful today; let us remember that and dare to dream.

Book Review: Upside Down

The essence of servant leadership comes from Christ and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in their inter-relatedness, diversity, and old world “Early Christian” equality. The disciples and the life of Jesus are our direct models for how to utilize these principles in a very direct way for the church, to eliminate the spread of the “McChristians” and develop a huge network of people who know their individual callings, and are working towards the establishment of the kingdom of God.

There are several focii in the book: on Jesus as the ideal servant leader, the disciples as the servant leaders he taught through modeling, and the equality (and hence, servant leadership qualities) shared by the Early Christians. The qualities of a leader are: intimacy with Christ, being above reproach, solitary authenticity, rooted and growing in grace, submitting to authority, but above all, leading others through developing and equipping them with their God-given gifts, and then releasing them.

Rinehart is in danger of being labeled a polytheist. Beyond the odd relationship between the trinity he espouses, his servant leadership model seems primarily aimed at increasing the size of the church of believers, as he intimates that servant leadership is primarily relegated to Christians who are working for the church. However, his commitment remains to discovering how the scriptures root all Christians in the concepts of servant leadership, and his discoveries are insightful and sometimes amazing, specifically when he mentions that “serving” appears over 250 times in the New Testament. It makes one wonder why more scholars have not caught onto this, unless they have but did not have the benefit of Rinehart’s paradigm.

My desire is to see a model of servant leadership that has no goal but to serve, and I believed I had found that in Rinehart, but ultimately, his focus was less on the debt we owe to God for our lives, and more on the Christianization (in a good way) of society; thus the incentive for us to be salt and light having a purpose beyond that of being a servant, but of the expansion of all believers. However, Rinehart has done tremendous work in bringing in context verses from the Bible which talk about servant leadership in a very accessible way, as well as explaining how New Testament servants were very different from Old Testament heroes because of the influence of Christ. Most intriguing to me was the extent which Christ went in teaching his followers practically how to be servant leaders, something definitely to emulate.

Bibliographic information/citation

Rinehart, S.T. (1998). Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership. Colorado Springs: Navpress.

The Bonds of Friendship

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with several universal themes, although the most important of these themes are of the mystery of death and the conflict of friendship. As I sit here and write out my thoughts, I am barraged with a sense of a message beyond an ordinary story – a message that reaches out and connects with even my own life. The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with some concepts that are prevalent even today, in our modern society. Our modern world, just like the ancient world, deals with suffering, death, love, and friendship – these universalities that create what we call humanity. And the Epic of Gilgamesh contains some valuable lessons for us, even in an age where the past seems like an idyllic barbarism.

I remember an argument with one of my best friends when I was growing up in San Francisco. We were part of a choir, and the time of the year came when all of the choir members needed to raise money for a summer, international singing tour. The competition was fierce – and most of the tension was between my friend David and myself. At the end of the competition, I had made the most money, and David did something peculiar. He did not speak to me for six months, quiet as stone. I remember feeling betrayed. I was continually haunted by his silence, and I thirsted to understand why something like competition could drive a person to abandon something as great as what we had.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods create Enkidu the savage man, to compete with the monumental and harsh King Gilgamesh. Within this tale of friendship and conflict, we see the beauty of competition and of the forgiving and bridging of friendship. Enkidu was created because the people were afraid of Gilgamesh, and requested to the gods that they be given some relief from his magnificent personality. Enkidu provided exactly that – an outlet for Gilgamesh and his energy. Enkidu approached Gilgamesh and challenged him on his brutal and insensitive activities, and the two of them began to fight. They fought so hard that buildings shook like an earthquake moving through the land, and they fought throughout the entire city. The Epic states, “the doorposts trembled and the wall shook.” Eventually, Gilgamesh won the fight, and Enkidu lowered his anger and the two embraced and became friends. This perhaps, was Gilgamesh’s only friend, for Enkidu was the only one who had the power to challenge Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh knew this.

David and I eventually made up, and admitted to each other how silly our silence had been. I had been afraid to speak to him because I believed him angry with me, and he was afraid to speak to me because he was afraid that I was afraid of him being angry. Our competition brought us farther apart, but when we were willing to sit down with each other and work out the details of the problem, we realized how silly our conflict had truly been. Gilgamesh reveals a true secret of life: most conflict is rather silly, and problems can be amended with a simple embrace and a courtesy of friendship. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought, they held a respect and awe for each other than transcended the deepest hate they could have had. David and I continued our friendship, and we overcame many obstacles in our path of friendship through the simple embrace of love.

David’s parents were strict, and his father perhaps the strictest and most stubborn father I ever knew. David and I used to square off with him, especially when his father would tell David he was not allowed to participate in certain activities or act in a certain way because of a challenge of superiority with the father position. David and I used to wrestle his father, until he laughed so hard that he eventually gave up his claim.

In the same way, Gilgamesh and Enkidu overcame many obstacles. Both of these men were children of the gods, more than mere mortals. Gilgamesh was a demigod, born from the union of an immortal and a mortal, and Enkidu was sculpted directly into being without a mother or father. They constantly struggled with the gods and the superior attitude of the gods. Humbaba, the guardian of Cedar Mountain, symbolized a victory for Gilgamesh and Enkidu against their parents, the gods. Humbaba was the form of the strength of the gods, and the two friends, through many trials, overcame the great beast and cut off its head. The gods were angered, but the two friends relished in their victory, and became well known in the land for the victory. They stood for independent thought and freedom from the oppressive gods.

David overcame his father at times, and seemed to rise above the small being that he was often cast as being. Although we both knew that his father still cared deeply, just as the gods did in the Epic, we also knew that a victory for David meant that he could step up to his father and look him in the eyes and tell him he was strong and he was not weak. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, perhaps, strove for the same thing – recognition from their parents for their strength. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu had cut down the tallest tree, Enkidu said, “My friend, we have cut down the towering Cedar whose top scrapes the sky… let them carry it to Nippur, the Euphrates will carry it down, Nippur will rejoice.” They searched for meaning in their lives – and they found it by revealing their true strength, that of independence.

Before I left for college in the summer of 1999, David was diagnosed with lymphatic nodal cancer. He felt alone. His friends didn’t visit him anymore, and everyday he listened to the voices in his head that told him he was dying. I visited David anytime I possibly could. Instead of going home like I normally would, and watching television or reading a book or going out, I visited David and tried to be the best friend that I could be. I could tell that inside he was very confused, but didn’t release that anxiety, especially around me. I was going through something similar – how could a friend of mine be dying, so early, so young, and so innocent? The answer wasn’t logical, or even acceptable. Therefore, I contained myself to visiting him anytime I could, so that I could understand and perhaps by my presence, soothe his pain. Questions blazed through my mind – what was death, and what happened after death, and what kind of being had the authority to prescribe something like this death? I couldn’t answer any of these questions. The only comfort I had was visiting David, taking him out to lunch, and having the kind of conversation we had before this happened. Sometimes I would ask him how the treatments were going. I was sympathetic, and confused.

In the Epic, Enkidu becomes very sick, for the gods curse him. Gilgamesh goes through similar trials as I faced – confusion, misunderstanding, and silence. Gilgamesh tried to be a friend to Enkidu during this time, although he found the process very hard. Enkidu is also confused and angry – he curses even the door, and he curses every friend he ever had in the world, from his lover, to his parents, to his best friend. Gilgamesh is beside him most of the time (for awhile he disappears because he is unable to approach Enkidu), and tries to be a comfort. And when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns his death deeply, so deeply that he prescribes a vast, new life to live – the quest for immortality.

David survived his cancer. He is still going through the fading stages of the sickness now, and must maintain his diet and visit the doctors every now and then to receive a new statement. My story was different. I was changed, because my best friend almost died. This left a gap within me – an understanding of not understanding. I became almost obsessed with understanding death and the purpose of death. A few years later, I took a job at a local funeral home, where my work was the gathering of dead bodies and the transportation of bodies to morgues. This was my journey, and perhaps where I learned my finest lesson about death. Everyday I was forced to view the face of someone who had lived, and now has died, and I was forced to touch them and bind them in a ceremonial outfit, noble enough for the afterlife.

Gilgamesh searched the world for immortality. He traveled to the other side of the world, to the world of the dead, beyond the River of the Dead, to find the one man granted immortality by the gods. He traveled through mountains that contained no light, he traveled through the realms of the scorpion kings, he traveled through the gardens of the divine winemaker, and he traveled to the ferryman who ferried souls across the River of the Dead to meet the immortal Utnapishtim. And when he met this immortal, Gilgamesh learned that immortality was not something that could be gained by human effort, but only by the will of the gods. Gilgamesh went through several trials, and failed every trial before him. Utterly, at the end, Gilgamesh was left with the singular lesson of the mystery of death.

Life is a beautiful and glorious thing. Friendship offers a person a sort of enhanced life, like a drug that is so strong that when it leaves, the bond is broken and death seems almost too inevitable. Gilgamesh felt this with Enkidu – he learned to love his life. He was still King Gilgamesh, but his energies were not devoted to ruining the lives of his people, but rather were funneled into a friendship that he believed would last forever. But that friendship dissolved, and he became distressed by the concept of death. He received a different kind of death – that of separation, and felt the inevitable of such things coming to him. So he searched for immortality, perhaps to alleviate his worries about Enkidu, or perhaps to prove that he still could be above the gods and stand equal with his parents. But in the end, Gilgamesh realized that death is not anything that can be controlled by a work of man. Death comes when death comes, and is not for the decision of the mortal who awaits it. Gilgamesh’s final thoughts rested on his mortal accomplishments. “Go up Urshanabi (the ferryman), onto the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly – is not even the core of the brick structure of kiln-fired brick, and did not the seven sages themselves lay out its plan!”

I came to the same realization during my own discovery and travels. That death is inevitable, and is not something we can control. My older brother died when he was two years old, as a baby in his sleep. My grandmother lived until she was 95 years old, in perfect health. However, when she was sent to the hospital because of a cold, she died because of too much lactose and sugar consumption. The Epic of Gilgamesh brings out some of the most important questions in life – the vast importance of friendship, the inevitability of death, and the acceptance of life as being beautiful and treasured.

Katheder Socialismus

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The title of this essay is a German phrase meaning “socialism of the chair.” In 1872, a group of German economists argued for the use of state funds for the bettering of the working classes, and were labeled as the Katheder Socialismus in satire. I mean, in this essay, to speak of the national socialistic movements in Italy and Germany after World War I, but first you, the reader, must understand some very basic concepts of this present world that I speak.

After the period of time historians call the Reformation, the Church was no longer the Church, but now the church, in lower case letters. A central authority was broken across the landmass of Europe, and secular governments began to advertise nationalism in the stead of the church. Nationalism became a cry across the shattered fragments of Europe, a cultural unification of people with the same history, the same family, and the same blood. Nationalism replaced religion in many countries, and although the church was still supported, the power of God became less and the power of a supreme leader of the country became the ruling construct.

Nationalism began a breakdown of divine rule slowly, first by a gentle subjugation into the population of thought, and finally with violent revolution and war. After the Napoleonic wars and the Council of Vienna, it became obvious that with the breaking of the church, monarchy as a statement of rule was impossible. Even in monarchies, nationalism arose and threatened to topple the governmental regimes. Such regimes as the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II were a common occurrence in the post Napoleonic world – a monarchy under the control of a nationalistic ideal. Just because the national government is destroyed does not mean that nationalism was going to die – nationalism was not only a governmental institution, but primarily nationalism began as a philosophy and still continues to this day as a policy – a unifying and centralized philosophy of borderland importance.

The Council of Vienna was a disaster because the leaders were afraid of a new world. They were afraid of a world without the monarchy and the aristocracy and the church – but already the Catholic church had been broken, the various denominations had formed beneath the Reformation, and people viewed themselves not as Christians but now as French, English, Italians, Germans, and other nationalistic creations.

So what does any of this have to do with national socialism? One of the principal causes of World War I, in my opinion, was the separatist movement of nations. Countries needed to discover their limits of power, and therefore war was inevitable. Countries took the philosophy of mannerism to an extreme, and created national mannerisms, not only in social realms but also economic, political, and religious realms. Countries began to hold grudges against each other – but this time, on a massive, nationalistic scale. Philosophy and political ideology differed from the country to country, and the sparks began to grow from a single grain of ancient ash until a firestorm engulfed all of Europe when the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. A leader had been maliciously murdered, and countries felt threatened. The nationalists gathered their arms, and prepared to lay down all those grudges they had kept hidden in their hearts for years.

So they fought. Bravo, you nationalistic pigs. At the end of the war, these pigs had grown so weak and so limp from the wounds of each other’s bullets that they slumped down into the mud and almost gave up. And the countries of Italy and Germany were in the lead – fallen, aged, and weak. The cost of arms for the war, and the cost of the lives of the men who had died in the war shook these two countries to the core. Their governments struggled with the economy, but could not even protect their own streets from vandals and bandits. This is where the story begins, first on the balmy shores of Italy, and then into the wooden plains of the shattered, Germanic tribes.

Italy was still a monarchy at the end of the war. Rome was the political capital of Italy, ruled by a King. The Pope still ruled the church from the Vatican after World War I, and had significant power over the activities of the church throughout Europe. However, the country was in shambles. After the war, the Italian treasury was depleted, and could not support even the most menial of protection. Jobs could not be properly compensated for; so many people did not work. The veterans of the war were left without help, thrown back into Italy with only their shirt and a pair of slummy shoes. Capitalism began to rise as a source of money, and the aristocracy still clung wildly to their land.

With the creation of the industrial state (a state relying on industry as a source of income), capitalism rose like a flood. The mass marketing of material became commonplace, and required a need for general workers. One could say that industrialism replaced serfdom, in a sense, because the workers were generally given low wages and were not compensated for their families, often forced to work 12 to 18 hour work days without a break, at extremely poor rates of pay. Out of this environment rose Marxism and communism – or a form of government in which the workers (or majority) rule instead of a noble aristocracy. Marxism was a common threat to nationalistic governments and especially to nationalistic philosophy, and as most countries were nationalistic, communism was not an idle threat. With the expansion of industrialism and the increase of workers, Marxism became a popular ideology among the common man. Workers joined together in Socialist (or Marxist) organizations, often political but also revolutionary, and rebelled against the industrial, capitalist system.

With the additional lack of Italy’s treasuring, and the common occurrence of a worker’s strike (refusal to work), Italy was in the slumps. A young man, a political activist by blood, gathered together bored and agitated veterans from the surrounding Italian countryside and formed a brute squad to put down these worker strikes. This man’s name was Benito Mussolini, and his specialized task force of ex-soldiers was known as the Fascists. The term fascism is derived from the fasces, an ancient roman symbol of authority and power – a bundle of rods strapped around an axe-head. Mussolini and his group were extreme nationalists, and enemies of communism. Eventually, his group grew to such strength that he marched into Rome and in a seizure of fear or perhaps enlightenment, the weak King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini as a Premier in the government, ruling over much of the government.

During Mussolini’s rule as a premier, he began to drastically alter the Italian governmental influence over the people. He held a strict policy of discipline and control over the government, and increased governmental power to include power over economic, social, and eventually religious (he made a treaty with the Pope). He created what is called, the corporate state, or a government that controls everything economic and political. He controlled wages of the factories. He controlled the import and export of goods. He silenced all opposition to the Fascist party. He controlled and aided the capitalistic classes of Italy, and moved forward in modernization and production. His ideology was focused on the national symbol of Italy, strung together with a militant organization and a disciplined philosophy.

The rise of Fascist Italy is of no surprise. Just as Napoleon was able to wrest power away from France into a single dictatorship, Italy has copied the idea. When a country is weak and the government cannot protect nor aid its people, the people seek a new government. And in times of weakness people will always cling to strength, such as Mussolini’s Fascist brute squads. In addition, Italy’s surviving soldiers, the veterans, prowled the countryside trying to gain back what they once had. Unable to find a job, they landed themselves on plots of unused or rarely used land, and started to build a life for themselves, but they were not accepted. The landowners and the capitalists vied to throw them off the land and turn them to beggars. Mussolini offered these veterans a way out of the slums of Italy and into the big picture, where they believed they belonged (after all, they had given their lives for Italy). Hundreds of thousands of veterans prowled the Italian countryside, and eagerly embraced Mussolini’s cure. In addition, the economy was being hurt – in the winter of 1920 several hundred factories went on strike. Production halted dramatically, and the people felt it. So Mussolini began to put down these rebellions against the industrial state, and he was not only accepted by the capitalists and the aristocracy, but by the common people who were not in the factories, but rather needed the products that the factories put out. He was a hero. He was Italy’s hero, and they embraced him like a father.

Germany followed in suit, although they traveled on a much more difficult path. Since Germany had been a leader in World War I, and was defeated by the Allies, Germany was harshly treated after the war. Large chunks of Germany were handed off to different member countries of the Allies, and severe restrictions on the German economy were enacted to prevent any future threats of battle. Germany was surrounded by raving dogs that bit and clawed at Germany, just to itch the wounds more. And Germany was also affected by nationalism; just as every other country was affected.

Germany was humble in the face of the rest of the European nations that hated her. Leaders like Gustav Stresemann and Friedrich Ebert were calm, and tried to reconcile with the surrounding nations of France, Russia, England, and the League of Nations. Eventually, Germany was even admitted into the League of Nations, and was also a major economic supporter of this new world after the major world war.

However, the internal Germany was not doing well – the economic loss after the war coupled with the impositions of the League of Nations upon Germany as war repercussions led Germany down a bad road with money. Many veterans were unemployed, like in Italy, and much of Germany had been cut off, such as the Ruhr Valley, one of Germany’s most prosperous economic fields. People were disenchanted with life, and communism was a major threat in the political spectrum. As I said before, when countries are weak, the people search for a new government. Germany was divided into a number of prevalent governmental powers vying for control: a communist party, a Roman Catholic party, a socialist party (different from the communist party, mostly composed of small business and professional workers), the nationalist party, and the national socialist party (the Nazi party).

In the elections after Hitler had become Chancellor of the Parliament, his Nazi party gained 17 million votes – more than half of the proper votes for political power. Thus, the Nazi party came into power – the national socialists, to be more exact.

Hitler is complicated. He was a sign of his culture – he was an ardent nationalist, a believer in the superiority of his blood and his country. He understood the problems of his country and sought to remedy them by making Germany strong and economically independent. Like much of Europe at the time, he was also an advocate for the superiority of his own kind and the people who supported him – his country. He sought to destroy any person who stood in his way. Hitler is infamous for the destruction of almost half of the population of the Jews during World War II – noted solemnly today as the Holocaust. The Nazi Party is demonized and Hitler is set in the same room as the Devil himself.

Adolf Hitler began his political life much like Mussolini. He was a political activist, a rebellious thinker, and an artist. He frequented taverns and beer halls, where the veterans, the ex-soldiers of Germany would drown themselves into a cup of mead, and tell them that their lives were not lost. Hitler would frequent the universities and would speak with the always disenchanted university students, and tell them he had a solution for Germany’s problems. He eventually, with this cast of veterans and students, formed a popular political party, and some of his closest friends became power players such as propagandists, managers, and idea gurus. He advocated extreme nationalism, and sought to unify people under a common banner, as well as playing the superiority tactics of the contemporary world.

It is interesting to me how modern historians still view an age only fifty years ago with such twisted notions of the truth. I’ve read books over my life on the Fascist and Nazi parties, and of the characters of Mussolini and Hitler. These books have utterly demonized these two men and their ideas for what they believed to be truth – and never have the historians questioned their own ideas of truth and their own countries. I view Mussolini and Hitler as pieces of their culture – not demons, but rather advents and examples of the world they lived in. When Hitler was placing Jews in concentration camps, Russia was doing the same thing to their own Jews and the Gypsies in their special, unique way. They were also staunchly against writers, musicians, and artists, who had a different opinion of the world than they themselves held. France placed foreigners and Jews in concentration camps. The United States placed their own citizens in concentration camps, and also sent atomic bombs over cities of thousands, and perhaps even millions, and decimated an entire culture. Turkey slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and Italy even sent their own citizens and Jews to concentration camps.

I will continue to be amazed, I think. Italy and Germany were united of out nothing extraordinary. They were united because of a shambling population, and an unused soldiery. Their militant governments happened because the soldiers of the first war were left without anything, much like the Vietnam War in the recent decades of the United States. They were united out of nationalism, and a spreading ideal of a population placed within segmented borders trying to discover who they were and why they were. Perhaps today, after the two major world wars, we have discovered that our nationalistic dreams were nothing but the beginning of the world trying to discover who they truly are.

The Phoenix Blossom

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Renaissance is a period in history that boggles us. The Renaissance is perhaps, the quintessential period of time before the Reformation, which eventually led to the Enlightenment. The Renaissance is a period of time re-instituting an ancient belief in the human spirit, “the spirit of the Renaissance,” drawn from the days of the olden city-states of the Grecian world. But historians are left perplexed why the Renaissance came about, and how. To many scholars, the Renaissance burgeoned because of a total acknowledgment of the human spirit as a more divine force than of the divine forces in the church. Many scholars agree that the Renaissance came about because of a group of brilliant individuals inspired by some general trend – the artists and poets and musicians of the Italian and Germanic states. I wish to delve even further than these scholars, and attack what I believe was the central nexus of thoughts for the inspiration of the Renaissance: Florence.

But first, I must shed some background light on the city-state, and the apparatus of which this “Flower of Italy” sprang into so much of an inspiration to the figures of the artistic Renaissance. Perhaps, the major cause of Florence’s power rested in the fall of the Byzantine Empire, when the Turks invaded and conquered the fragile and politically torn city. Actually, we should move farther back, before the Christian Crusades, in the tenth century when Byzantine was disheveled because of a conspiracy over an iconoclastic ideal. During this time, many of the artists of Byzantium emigrated from the city onto the lands of Italy, where they took residence. They moved throughout the countryside, to Rome, and father up to Florence, Venice, and Milan. Many took residence in the countryside, where they could practice their art without resistance from the church.

It was during this time that the Byzantium style of art – that of gold, fresco, and extraordinary color, invaded the mainland of not only Italy, but the Holy Roman Empire. In Italy, this style of art became well-known and accepted. These immigrated artists began to teach others about the Byzantine style. The Church, as well, was beginning to grow past the signatories of the Holy Roman Empire, and the fallen Byzantium. The Church began to utilize the Byzantium style to adorn their churches, and artists became a high price and a worthy profession.

Also in Italy, the Romanesque style of art became a common staple among artists. The Romanesque style was a combination of native Italian and Byzant art, a coalescing of art from Nordic, Celtic, Byzant, and Turkish styles of art. The Romanesque style emphasized ornamental and decorative patterns, spirals, ribbons, and expressive lines.

Farther north, in the Holy Roman Empire, in central France, the great cathedrals were being built, or already were built. Many of these cathedrals, such as Chartres and Notre Dame, used Roman figurine-sculpture (the Holy Roman Empire) to adorn the walls and the high ceilings. These sculptures were humanistic in every sense – inspired by the architects and sculptors of Rome; they emphasized the natural body and the divine sense of being of the saints. Eventually, as the Byzantine art spread up into France, the Gothic style, as it was called, came down, partly due to intrigue, and partly due to a political upheaval in France that dismounted Louis VII from the throne of France, and began the unstable period of the Angevin Empire. The Gothic artists moved down to Italy to learn the Byzantine and Romanesque styles of art, and the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved up to learn the Gothic style.

In this coalition of artists and art, especially the converging of Byzant and Gothic art, a new realization was formed. Artists who were native to the Byzant art began to experiment in the humanistic Gothic style, merging the two. When Byzantium finally fell, by this time the interest and artistic endeavors had moved beyond the golden city. For years, the cities of Florence, Venice, and Milan, had been re-routing the trade routes to Byzantium. Because of the political strife in Byzantium, traders wanted less to do with the fallen city, and instead, began to trade with these emerging Italian city-states. One cannot say a certain city was any faster than any other in regards to recognizing the stream of artistic thought. One can say that it was in central and northern Italy that this new thought began to emerge – the precise place where the Gothic artists and the Byzant/Romanesque artists were sure to meet.

Venice and Milan were both very important cities in the world of the Renaissance, although they did not hold more importance that the politically unstable city-state of Florence, the “flower of Italy.” Florence is located between the two cities, a natural trade route between Venice, Milan, and Rome. During the political unrest of a fallen Byzantium, and of a reforming Empire to the north, the Italian cities broke away and formed their own governments and lands. They formed militias and took surrounding lands in their control. They stayed out of each other’s pockets, generally. Most of the strife in these cities was inner – other people vying for power among the city governments.

For a majority of her Renaissance life, Florence was ruled by the family Medici. The Medici family refused to actually take a significant title in the ruling of Florence when they came into power, and instead, began to branch out as bankers, artisans, and patrons to the arts. In the years 1270 through 1280, Florence had an economic boom. The population increased, new buildings and structures were designed and implemented, and an influx of Angevin (Gothic) artists moved into the city because of the prosperity. The merchant guilds grew to such power, that in the ten years of the economic boom, they gained power over the government and formed the arti maggiori and the arti minori.

The arti maggiori was composed of seven guilds: lawyers, notaries, clothiers, wool-crafters, silk merchants, money dealers, and furriers. The arti minori was composed of twenty-five less important shopkeeping and artisan guilds. Five of these guilds were asked to take part in governance of the city, known as the arti medie. Guilds were often formed out of families. The father would apprentice his son and daughter in the craft, whatever that certain craft may be. And the knowledge would pass onto the next generation, and so forth.

The most well-known figure of the Renaissance was Petrarch. In our contemporary society, we know Petrarch mostly for his love poetry, but more importantly, Petrarch was a teacher. He believed in the revitalization of the Greek Classical culture, and taught his pupils an enthusiasm on Classical learning. He would often bring in people from Byzantium to teach his pupils the importance of classical learning. However, he was not the only one interested in humanism and the classical studies. Because of the influx of Gothic art (what remained of the humanistic studies of the Roman Empire), others began to take interest as well.

The Church had begun to take an interest in classical studies, and began to adorn the Byzantine styled sanctuaries with Gothic art. The artists Cimabue and his pupil Giotto were major benefactors and inspirations to this new influx of art. The artist Gentile de Fabriano, a man who specialized in Romanesque and Byzantine art, trained a man named Jacopo Bellini, who later with the artist Antonio Vivarini, was to create an artist academy in Venice to train young pupils. Some of the pupils of this Venetian academy were no less than Giovanni Bellini and Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and Giorgione Barbarelli. Giovanni Bellini, the son of Jacopo Bellini, trained Titian Vecelli and Tintoretto. These are names that will forever be remembered in the archives of Renaissance art. Their work can be found across all of Italy, from Rome all the way into the northern tip of Milan.

Perhaps the most important person, in the entire Renaissance, was a man named Cosimo de Medici. He was a man of his time, a banker who loved the classical studies more than anything. He was a wealthy man and the leader of Florence during the classical revival and humanism period. He bought many classical manuscripts and brought Greek and Roman sculptures to his city, for the education of his citizens and those in his surrounding countryside. He founded the first public library in the convent of San Marco, where the Renaissance artists Fra Angelico, his pupil Fra Filippi Lippi, and his son Filippino Lippi, had painted art that was soon to sweep the entire citizenry of Florence. Their artwork was one of a combination of Byzantine, Romanesque, and the progressive and controversial Gothic art.

Cosimo was also a worthy patron of the arts. Perhaps one reason why Florence was the leader in the Renaissance is not because of some divine happening or miracle of the mind, but because of money. Because of the trade increase in Florence and the fall of Byzantium, Florence now traded much in that classical trade which flourished prior in Byzantium – mainly, gold, silk, and stone. Merchant guilds sprang from the dust around Florence that specialized in goldsmithing, clothing, and stonework. Many of these families that specialized in the art of goldsmithing, especially, were adequate and able artists, who wished to move beyond mere Romanesque decoration, and move into a more lively and volatile field: painting and sculpture. Cosimo de Medici was a patron to many of these up-and-coming artists. The architect Brunelleschi, the painters Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi and the sculptors Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia were among his most brilliant of artists that he acted as patron. And he was not the only patron of the arts – but he did act as a sufficient role-model for the rest of the city. Many other wealthy men and women in Florence became patrons, because of Cosimo’s influence.

These men, especially Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Ghiberti, became teachers in Florence, and took in many pupils. They taught this art of classical studies and classical art, with the infusion of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic art. They created workshops for young students to come and study with them. Sandro Botticelli was the work of one of these workshops. His teacher was Fra Filippo Lippi. Botticelli then trained Fra Filippo Lippi’s son, Filippino Lippi, in the art. And these three were not the only teachers. Their forming of workshops within the urbanized Florence became commonplace. Some of the most important teachers of the Renaissance were Domenico Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Veracchio, and Pietro Perugrino (a pupil of Veracchio).

It can be argued that Lorenzo de Medici, otherwise known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, was the most important influence of the Renaissance, besides his father, Cosimo. However, in my respective opinion, Lorenzo could never have become the great man that he was if not for his father. It’s really a matter of opinion, in that sense. Lorenzo de Medici was perhaps the greatest patron of the arts in Florence. He not only supported ventures within his own city, but he also had ventures as far as Milan, and had formed artistic workshops and artistic communities in these two respective cities. Beneath Lorenzo’s guidance and money, the most well-known and crafted of artists emerged: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto. These four were not the only artists that Lorenzo supported, but were perhaps the most well-known in their time. During this time of the Medici patronage, the Church was also acting in full, scouring Florence, Milan, and Venice for artists, architects, and sculptors to help build the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and flourish the church with art.

Leonardo da Vinci was trained by Andrea del Verocchio and the scientist Toscanelli. He was a versatile man, and stood for a true Renaissance man: not only a man of the arts, but of science, philosophy, and theology. Leonardo was also a politician, and a resourceful teacher. He established a school for his particular brand of art – combination of biology, mathematics, and artistic aesthetics, named after his respective self. He also was an architect and an engineer, who helped create siege engines and towers for Florence during the brief exile of Lorenzo de Medici. He was a man who loved his city more than anything, beyond petty politics and empirical disagreements.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was twenty years younger than Leonardo da Vinci, and through most of his life, strove to meet his awesome figure. He was trained by Ghirlandaio, and received the support of Lorenzo as a patron. He was a brilliant sculptor, and completed miracle after miracle, what other sculptors dare not do. His most inspiring work, the Pieta, was carved out of a single block of marble. This was a block of marble that no other sculptor in the entire city of Venice was willing to touch, because of its beauty, danger, and impossibility. Michelangelo was also a spiritual man who loved the Church. Although he was not the only artist who painted in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he was the first, and the inspiration for many more following him. Michelangelo’s wife, Vittoria Colonna, was also a brilliant painter.

Raphael Sanzio, many consider to be the greatest painter of his time. He was trained under the auspices of Pietro Perugrino, otherwise known as Pietro Venucci. Raphael was a genius, who died young at the age of thirty-seven. His most ambitious works were done in Rome, under the work of the Pope.

By the time that Raphael dominated the artistic scene, the Medici of Florence was dying away. When Lorenzo the Magnificent died, the patronage of Florence fell apart, and the artists and sculptors and scientists left Florence to head to more amiable places. Florence was not a very nice place to live anyways – the corruption and familial practice of constant exilement was not something than most Florentines enjoyed. Even the Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence for his political views.

However, in Rome, the Medici family still reigned. In fact, during the Medici control over Florence, many of the Medici had succeeded as Pope and other important positions such as Cardinals and Bishops. So, when Lorenzo died, and the patronage of Florence fell, the arms of Rome welcomed the artists. Venice and Milan continued to thrive for many more years. The Renaissance, by this time, had solidified in the north, where it had been expanding its influence in the French and Germanic areas. When the Gothic artists moved south, the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved north, to establish what would be the next Renaissance in the northern areas.

In addition to the artists of the Renaissance, advancements in humanistic music, theology, and science were advocated. Music began to expand into more territories, besides the monastical and troubadour tunes of the pre-Renaissance. Palestrina and Monteverdi were main figures of the musical rise in the Renaissance, writing sensual and more complicated themes. Politics also rose, especially in the form of Machiavelli and his book, The Prince. A secular humanism had invaded Italy, and expanded itself in the attitude of the people of Italy.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the Renaissance was the patronage of certain powerful men, and the shifting of ideas and trade routes. The urbanization of Florence, Venice, and Milan was also very key in the expansion of thought. When people gather together in meeting, ideas become communal, and science, technology, art, and religion grow and evolve. People are no longer alone; farming on isolated terraces, but instead are face-to-face with each other everyday. They walk on the same streets, drink the same water, and feel the same pain that their next-door neighbor feels.

Florence was the center of activity for the Renaissance world. Within Florence came a rebirth of ideas from a past world forgotten because of war, hate, and culturalization. And with the culmination and coalescing of ideas, Florence became the leader in the grafting of the humanistic qualities to the modern world. To this day, Florence remains the capture of a period of time when men were not afraid to dream. To this day, we call Florence, the “Flower of Italy,” and make pilgrimages to the ancient city in unabashed wonder at the works completed. For walking through Florence, is like walking through a field of knowledge, so unadulterated, that it shines.

 

SOURCES

DeWald, Ernest, Italian Painting, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1961

Gilbert, Creighton, Michelangelo, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1967

Steedman, Amy, Knights of Art, T.C. & E.C. Jack 1907

Leadership Integrity

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on organizational behavior I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Worldwide, the issue about leadership is Integrity — “We want our leaders to have integrity.”


Psycho-spiritual dynamics:

  1. Acceptance: people are desperate to be accepted by others
  2. Achievement: if people can’t achieve they will get ill; God built us to achieve
  3. Significance: feeling of being here not by accident; three basic human requirements

Normal (secular) teaching about significance:  Aim for Blue Ocean, when you will pitch your business; in which there are not so many products, so you can achieve a niche; but the Blue Ocean is everyday disappearing faster and faster

Our treatment of others gives or takes away significance.  We have these things already in Christ; our goal should be to teach others they already have these because of Jesus.  These three aspects are twisted in humanity; in Christ they are fulfilled and healthy. Even outside of Christ, the Christian principles can still be applied through leadership.

The key to success and behavior is how you behave within an organization.

  • ‘Coal face’ — where the rubber hit’s the road; the reality
  • Christian organizations do not do well; we are not leading, we are trailing


We must always be aware that the organization is composed of the human element.

  1. Human behavior within the setting
  2. The organization itself
  3. The relationship between the human and the organization


‘The Big Eye’ — the big overview; being able to discern the subtle paradigms that operate within an organization: Organizational behavior is their DNA.  Change is successful through incremental change, not massive and major change.

  1. ‘Soldiering’ – when the workers agree to work together under their capability
  2. ‘Piece-rate’ – earnings are now related to the pieces you make
  3. ‘Esprit de corps’ – spirit of the upper management
  4. ‘Span of control’ – the upper management having command and controlling without question the employees
  5. ‘Vac job’ – holiday work
  6.  Rules — stifles creativity but creates clear expectations
  7. Divisions — narrows specialization and forces limitations; soul destroying
  8. Hierarchy — creates judgment (good and bad, hard worker and lazy) among workers
  9. Technical — the resolution of what merit becomes has no standard; technical competence is standard

Therefore, advancement is narrowed to certain kinds of people; copies.

  1. Rights — Lack of identity for workers
  2. Documentation — Policy ends up mastering the organization

The idea of ‘employee satisfaction’ was a paradigm shift in business — which leads to the question, what mistakes are we making today that will require another paradigm shift?

X=Modernists (Traditional Leadership), Y=Post-Modernists (Servant Leadership)

‘You can lead a horse to water — you can’t force it to drink.’  We should resist the spirit of poverty which says ‘I am nothing and I am no one.’

  • Maslow: Not a Christian source, but still has a lot of wisdom.
  •  FISH (a study about fun in the workplace)

We are currently in a Post-Literate culture. People are only interested in seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, touching it.  Story is the currency of this age.

  • The Dream Society (book about the future in 20 years), Rolf Jenson

Thoughts today:

1. Overview on how various secular and perhaps ungodly systems can be used in order to propose systemic change to organizational behavior, perhaps in a Christ-like way.

2. A background of organizational history which is focused on seeing the wisdom in traditional forms of systematic theory and historical and cultural blindness, and how we should use a positivistic point of view in viewing the future and believing we can personally change it.

3. Trying to capture and critique contemporary society and culture in the lens of how we move forward through organizational evolution and past paradigms.

4. Trying to understand how to implement this kind of traditional organizational structure in a classroom setting, to encourage students to learn on their own and take responsibility for their lives rather than being spoon-fed information and regurgitating stuff.

Emergent Leadership

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on servant leadership I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Leadership is: serving; influential; role-modeling; influencing people; creating a context for human flourishing; communication and modeling; discipline; situational but consistent; transformational; an embodiment of what others desire to follow; visionary; trustworthy; inspiring; and equipped and empowered.


  1. Maximizing potential in people
  2. Serve people so that they can grow
  3. Raising the morality of the organization 


Leadership is NOT about telling people what to do.

The leader must always have followers. Followers are volunteers.  There is a human agreement between the leader and the followers — in which the leader thanks the followers; the realization that nothing could happen without the team.

Leadership is never imposed; it is only gained.  If leadership is something that influences, then icons become global leaders.  Often we become reactive: what we see we don’t like, we do not want to become.

Most times our views of leadership are shaped by Thought-Leaders.  Leadership is not highly looked upon, across the whole world.

Leadership is idealized.  The ideal motif of the leader is replicated throughout humanity; projected upon icons (who may not be leaders at all).  Within Christian leadership, God-like Energy is projected upon the clergy by those below them. Humans want to be told how to live, not how to grow.

All people can affect a small portion of society, that eventually will go on to change other elements. There are things we can do.

Leadership is Power. How do we tap into the power dynamic in a healthy way? The moment a person has power, there is a psychological response, both in the holder and the recipient of power.

Some people desperately want to be leaders, for all of the wrong reasons.  Christ, therefore, becomes our central figure as leaders.  The trend of rising cynicism drives toxicity into people’s lives — that the world is slowly dying, and so we begin to focus on the death of our souls.


  1. A shift in power = where the workers now demand control of their own lives, rather than being in control by their work.
  2. Changing contract = jobs are now longer for one’s entire life — but short-term.


This shift of power is leaning towards China and the East. Now western blue-collar needs to re-train, and workers in the west need to specialize.

Eventually, the Farmers in China will disappear and become the workers of New Industry — once they realize how they have relocated all of their Farmers to the cities.

The West will eventually become major Specialists, and will be forced to become the idea people of the rest of the world.

Because of this we need to train companies how to be innovative. If they cannot innovate in the long-run, they will die.

Perhaps in the future this will cause the United States and the west to become the manufacturers.  There is a desperate need for excellent leadership.

What is we are sitting on a powerhouse, and we just don’t know how to let it loose? What could happen?  The days of the Heroic Leader needs to come to an end. The heroic nature of it is in releasing the organization. The Cult of the CEO is dead.

Leadership becomes facilitative, the forward journey for people, fabric, and company.